STEPS Working Paper 39

Trends in the Global Distribution of R&D since the 1970s: Data, their Interpretation and Limitations

Published on 16 April 2024

The 1970 ‘Sussex Manifesto’ was one of the earliest global policy reports to use statistical data about R&D that were starting to become available on an internationally comparable basis, though only in a very sketchy form for developing countries. It demonstrated the marginal position of that group of countries as contributors to the world’s R&D, accounting for only about 2 per cent of the global total. It also couched some of its core recommendations about policy in terms of quantitative indicators of R&D, but highlighted several major limitations of such indicators as tools for policy.

This Background Paper revisits the global data to review how the distribution of R&D between groups of countries has changed since the 1960s, in particular with respect to the marginal position of developing countries. It reveals mixed trends. The economies that were ‘developing’ in the 1960s now account for a much larger share of the global total, but this is concentrated in a small number of countries that are highly R&D-intensive and/or very large like India and China, leaving many others still playing only a marginal role. The paper also returns to some of the Manifesto’s concerns about the limitations of R&D indicators as a basis for policy debate. It notes a surprising persistence of many of those earlier limitations.

Cite this publication

Arond, E. and Bell, M. (2010) Trends in the Global Distribution of R&D Since the 1970s: Data, their Interpretation and Limitations, STEPS Working Paper 39, Brighton: STEPS Centre

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STEPS Centre


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